Interview With Clearbridge Mobile

May 03, 2016

Deepak Chopra Clearbridge MobileClutch spoke with Deepak Chopra, the CEO of Clearbridge Mobile, about mobile app development, app development in Canada versus the United States, the constant search for talent and the future of mobile app technology.Learn more about Clearbridge Mobile on their Clutch profile or at clearbridgemobile.com.

Clearbridge Mobile Logotype

Background

Please describe your organization

Clearbridge Mobile was founded in 2011 with a simple vision: we wanted to help the largest enterprises and brands in the world interact with their consumers or employees through emerging technologies. That vision has evolved as apps have evolved from mobile apps to smart TVs, wearable devices and the Internet of Things (loT). Fundamentally, what Clearbridge does is help brands and enterprises engage with employees and customers as distribution channels have changed. That was the simple premise the company was set up on.

At the time of our founding, we realized that mobile app development was still in its very early days. We continue to believe that today. We knew that building great mobile apps was very hard to do but we believed that if we could assemble a world-class team, we could help companies build these products for their customers.

And that’s what we’ve done over the past five years. We’ve assembled a world-class team that has built over 200 mobile apps and worked with dozens and dozens of Fortune 500 companies to help them deliver apps starting with product strategy all the way to design, engineering and delivery. And we don’t stop there. Once we deliver an app into the market, our goal is to help our clients make the most of that app, so we provide analytics and support to help make the app as effective as possible.

We help our clients understand what is happening with the app in the market. What features of the app are being used? What features aren’t being used? Then on the basis of that analysis we provide recommendations on how to enhance the product, user engagement and retention, and other key performance metrics.

Interview

Does Clearbridge Mobile see one thing as your specialty or your specific area of focus—something that might highlight what makes the company tick?

Today I would say the vast majority of our work is building native applications for iOS and Android, but we’re rapidly expanding into areas like IoT, full-stack solutions and responsive web design. We work with customers in a broad range of industries. What we fundamentally offer is an agile process that allows our customers to address their unique needs—we’ve built a process that allows us to engage with a customer. We help them figure out what it is they want and what their key priorities are. We then help them take a product to market that addresses those needs. We’ve refined that agile process over the past five years to the point where we’re now working with the best clients in the world and helping them get their product to market in a timely manner and within their budgets.

We’ve been very successful in a number of different verticals. We’ve done a lot of work in the media and entertainment space and worked with a number of major network broadcasters in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve worked with some of the largest entertainment companies in North America, as well as a large number of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).          

We’ve also done a lot of work in the retail space with some of the big retailers, helping them improve their customer journey, whether through a pure online experience or through their in-store digital experience.

Finally, over the past twelve months we have rapidly expanded into the FinTech market, working with several major banks and startups in the financial technology space. We help them create the next generation of mobile wallet solutions and understand how to interact with consumers as they shy away from traditional banking models.

Founding a business is a big accomplishment. What was the motivation for you to do that? How does that fit into your experience and background?

What we love about our business is we get to work with customers in a wide range of industries. We get to help solve a lot of different problems, and that’s why we’ve become successful—we’ve been able to hire really terrific people in all different facets of the business. Our people love that we’re offering them a great atmosphere, a great environment to work in, but also offering them great customers to work with across different industries. Our team could be at one moment engaged with a large financial institution, in another with a hot media company and in the next with an innovative new startup. That’s what interested my partner and I in founding Clearbridge. We saw a lot of opportunity where we could work with a many different companies addressing a broad range of challenges.

My personal background is in financial markets. I was actually a sell side analyst for many years. What I really loved about that job was the opportunity to learn about many different businesses and different business models. I got to see what people were up to across a wide range of industries. Clearbridge Mobile allowed me to continue that interest in working with companies across different spaces, but in a more meaningful way because now I’m actually helping them. That was the primary reason we founded the company, and we continue to push that vision. That’s what really allows us to attract great talent.

Many of your clients are based in the United States. As a Canadian company, do you see any differences in the mobile market in the two countries? Is there really any difference between app development in Canada and app development in the States?

I think culturally we’re very similar and aligned in so many ways that working with companies in the U.S. is a natural fit. It’s interesting. What has ended up happening is that Toronto has become one of the world’s best places in terms of technology talent. The corridor between Waterloo and Toronto has become one of the biggest technology areas in the world in terms of engineering horsepower, business acumen and startup money. This has created a great climate for us to start out in and then, from here, push throughout both Canada and the United States.

We find the challenges our clients face in the two countries are similar. The challenges are more related to the specific industries than to geography. We also talk to customers in Europe and Asia. The challenges they’re all seeing are very, very similar. Some geographic areas might be ahead of the curve, some behind, depending on the vertical and depending on the geography, but the challenges everyone faces are similar. We’re moving from a world where interaction used to mean that you sat in front of your PC for hours on end. Today, interactions happen in 30-second increments on your smartphone—anywhere.

As a business, how do you address that? How do you change your approach to a customer base where attention spans are shorter and narrower? How do you engage with a customer in that brief moment when they’re focused on your product or service? Everyone is trying to figure out how to engage with changing habits where time is much more fractional but much more personal as well.

Regardless of the similarities between the United States and Canada, it seems that your Canadian client base is very loyal. What are the key things prospective clients, regardless of their geographic location, should be evaluating when they’re choosing an app development provider?

When selecting a vendor, I think you’re looking for someone that will provide you with transparency on the process. What any prospective customer should be looking for is a provider who will help them be grounded in reality. That’s why we try to ask meaningful, discovery questions when first interacting with a prospective customer. Okay, so you have this idea, but let’s dive a little bit deeper. What does this mean? Are you ready for this as an organization? Do you need a back end system built? Are you ready to support this?

And finally, are you ready from a personnel point of view? Are all the key people who need to help get this mobile app initiative up and running, are they available? Otherwise you’re going to set yourself up for failure. You need team availability on your side as well, because, really, you want a true partnership. I think an agile process requires both sides to be invested, but I think if a client has that, the returns are going to be phenomenal.

If I were a customer looking at different vendors, I’m looking for who’s going to ground me in reality. Who’s going to provide a transparent process both in the discovery phase and the building phase. Who can help support me in the aftermarket. Who can continue to make me smarter.

That’s one of the things that Clearbridge has done over the past twenty-four months is introduce a number of new services to help our clients become smarter. Our engagement doesn’t end when the app goes in the store. Quite often we continue to work with our clients, evaluating the apps, looking at different metrics and providing that data back to our clients.

What insights can you share about mobile app development pricing? What sort of price ranges should people be looking at for different types of apps? What should a prospective customer expect, what should they understand about how app development is priced?

We’ve worked with a lot of different clients with different budgets. I think the key thing is to understand your needs. If you’re a startup or have a limited budget, we need to understand your needs and then work with you to figure out what’s the appropriate solution for you. If we meet you early on, it will be more about providing proof of concept, doing some wireframes and mockups. Maybe you’re a startup. You want to raise some money based upon those items. Those services are one side of the equation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the large-scale enterprise that is taking on a large project. They want to work with multiple developers across multiple different platforms with a number of different related services. Well, that could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range or potentially even higher.

We work with clients across a broad spectrum based on their specific needs. I think that’s the key thing—just understanding what your needs are and then appropriately providing you the right service that fits your context. Now, sometimes there are customers who want a lot of stuff in a very limited budget. That’s not realistic. We work to figure out what you really need and what your budget is and we’ll work within that. That’s what I mean by providing transparency.

For most companies, mobile apps should not be considered a single event. When you launch that mobile app, it is not the end. It is actually the beginning of your mobile journey. It’s a constant process of iteration, development and updating, as you see how your app is doing in the market. What are the things we have to change to make that app more appealing to your customer base? We’ve been working with clients to help them understand that the launching of their mobile app is actually not the end of the journey—it’s only the beginning.

Now we’ve got the client thinking about what needs to be done to make the app better. What else can we do? What’s the second version going to look like? What’s number three going to look like? What is our multi-year road map? We find that a lot of clients have been moving toward this awareness as they come to understand that we are in a continual partnership to improve that app so they can ultimately generate more business.

In those cases where one or two native applications are out of a customer’s budget, are there any platforms or frameworks that you as a team occasionally use for cross-platform development, or do you stick only to native development?

The vast majority of our work today is native development, but that said, we do work with a number of cross-platform tools like Xamarin, Appcelerator, etc. We’ve worked with a whole series of those tools based on the client’s needs. However, we think native is the best route. It’s a simple reason, a very simple reason. The reality is that your customers are going to engage with you and your brand through your mobile app every day (at least that’s the hope). The days when your customers engage with you through desktop is declining.

So, if your mobile app is to be the primary source of how someone’s going to view your brand, it seems to me you always want to create the best possible experience for them. Users are looking for a high fidelity, high performance experience. They’re looking for great UI/UX. In those short increments of time—thirty seconds here, a minute there—I think you want to engage them with a really compelling offering. That’s your brand in front of them. So for us, our general preference is the native route. We think that’s the best way to engage with customers.

We need to know what your true priorities and goals are. We can work within your budget, but let’s then target how you really want to engage with the customer in the first place. This is much better than saying we want to get everything in this app, so let’s launch it using a cross-platform solution. Now that sometimes does happen for competitive or business reasons, but our general preference—a preference most of our clients share—is to go the native route.

Do you have any insights into finding your talent? What is it you look for when someone is trying to join your team?

As the word has gotten out about the projects we’re doing, the things we’re working on, and the clients we’re working with, we’ve been excited about the number of inbound resumes we’ve been getting from top-tier talent. It’s obviously very competitive for talent out there. Every mobile developer is trying to find great people. Large clients are even trying to hire their own teams. I think a lot of our customers are hiring us because there’s a global shortage of mobile talent. The demand for iOS and Android talent is hot and will continue to be so.

We’re finding more and more enterprises are coming to organizations like us even though they have had thoughts about creating their own development organizations. They have come to realize that it’s very difficult to get the talent they need. It’s very expensive, not just for developers but for all the supporting services around those developers. So we’re getting a lot of inbound talent. In addition to that, we have been very active in different social engagement channels locally to build up our brand and create that understanding in the marketplace as to what we’re up to. It’s been exciting.

So what’s on the horizon for Clearbridge? Do you have any exciting new projects, new platforms, things that you’ve been working on, things that your teams are excited about?

We’re very excited about what the second half of this year will hold for us. We have a number of projects currently in process that are going to launch through the summer for some large U.S. television broadcasters and some large sports entertainment groups. We’re also working with some of the large handset OEMs in North America and Asia. We’re very excited about what’s coming through this summer.

As a company, we continue to invest heavily in great talent. We continue to hire great software developers, great architects, great product strategists and designers. We can deliver really top quality products to our customers, really understand their needs and, hopefully, solve their problems.

In terms of products and services, we are exploring the emerging virtual reality technologies. We’ve also been doing more and more work around smart TV and wearables. And in the last year we have started to do more back end system development work to support our mobile apps with back end infrastructure—when our clients need that. In addition to that, we’re looking at a number of different areas as the concept of engagement expands to headsets and IoT markets. We see a number of growth tangents on the horizon.

Besides making heavy investment in terms of people, talent and new technologies, we continue to invest in our sales and marketing functions since we think we have an awesome story to tell the world. We’re hiring great people to get out there and tell our story. We’re definitely getting a lot more inbound traffic as people hear about us and some of the work we’ve done. We’re very excited by the opportunities that sit in front of us over the next year.

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